The Mekong was starting to feel like an old friend having followed us since we crossed the Thai-Laos border. It was only right that we said goodbye to it properly by having a good explore in the delta region where it finally meets the sea.
Our first stop was in Rach Gia. From what we can tell most tourists get off the ferry from Phou Quoc and then get on a bus straight away back to Ho Chi Minh City. We decided to stay the night here just because. Although there was nothing really to see or do here we had a great time just chilling out at the pavement cafés drinking iced coffee and then a few beers later in the evening while watching the world go by. We also discovered here that Alan is a bit, how shall I put this, “special.” It seems his hairy arms are a bit of an oddity in this part of the world so he attracted a bit of attention and arm stroking from various admirers. I found this most amusing of course!
After Rach Gia we caught a bus to Can Tho. This was another well run transport experience with seats and seat numbers for each passengers. Vietnam was starting to suit me very much! In Can Tho we took a boat trip to see the floating market in Cai Rang which was much more interesting than I had expected. Essentially it was a large wholesale market for fruit and veg. Each boat sold a type of fruit or veg and erected a mast at the front where they tied sample produce up high so customers could see what wares they were selling and head towards them.
After the floating market we were taken to see a rice noodle factory and then a tropical fruit orchard, the highlight of course being getting to feast on the fruit afterwards!
Next stop was Ben Tre. This was a much prettier place than Can Tho and far less touristy. On our first night we were sat in a beer garden just relaxing for the evening when a group of 6 men sat down at the neighbouring table. I could feel their eyes darting over at us and their bubbling curiosity as to why two random foreigners were in their drinking hole. They couldn’t contain their curiosity for very long and soon they were admiring Alan’s hairy arms, offering us beers and forcing food upon us (we were already stuffed full from dinner!). We couldn’t understand each other verbally but we got by with hand signals, smiles and laughter. It was a great experience which really made us feel very welcome in Ben Tre.
The next day we took a boat trip on the Mekong with Lan. We found him loitering near the Nambo pier and actually thought he was with Nambo to begin with. When we got on his boat though we realised he was a lone trader who had placed himself opportunistically next to where the tourist boats depart. However, I believe we had a far better experience with Lan than we would have done with a more mass market guide.
First he took us along the main river to a coconut candy workshop (which looked like it was set up for tourists rather than a genuine workshop producing stuff en-masse). We were shown very quickly the process of making the candy before being shown snake wine (we refused his offer to try it) and the bee hive making the honey for the honey tea we got to try.
Next stop was a quick walk on coconut island. This was very peaceful and shady in the hot Vietnamese sun. Lan told us how due to a recent Chinese boycott of Vietnamese products prices had plummeted and piles of coconuts were sitting there picked but with no customers to go to.
Last up was the “small, small canal” that Lan kept mentioning. Each smaller canal we went down had me thinking we had arrived until we went under a tiny bridge where we had to hit the deck (literally) to fit underneath it and then Lan switched off the engine.
The twists and turns were so tight he had to manually propel us along the river using the water coconut stems to guide us.
Once we were safely out the other side of the “Small, small canal” Lan switched the engine back on. We puttered slowly forward. Just after we went under a bridge we started puttering backwards! Confused, I glanced over my shoulder to see what was happening. I couldn’t see Lan!! Fearing he had fallen in I alerted Alan, but on closer inspection we realised Lan was still with us, well, kind of…
Evidentially something had got caught round the propeller. While the propeller was still going he had stripped off his top and submerged his head and upper body in the river, with his legs anchoring him to the boat still, whilst trying to resolve the problem. After a nerve-wracking few minutes where I feared for the well-being of his limbs and marvelled at his amazing capability to hold his breath for so long, he resurfaced with the offending piece of rope which had snared his motor.
Our slow travel through the Mekong on our way to Ho Chi Minh City has been a fairly sedate but very enjoyable few days. Most people we have come across have been curious but very friendly. Acts of generosity such, as the men in Ben Tre, have been lovely to be the recipient of. Others have simply shook our hands, shouted greetings at us or just stroked Alan’s arm… Vietnam so far has been a very friendly place to visit.